Visions Journal, 2009, 6 (2), pp. 16-18
Coming out is not just about telling others that we are lesbian, gay or any other sexual identity. It’s an ongoing process of living our sexualities and bringing them out and into our families, faiths, workplaces and communities.
This past summer, a small group of women met weekly at Qmunity in Vancouver. The group became a safe, supportive place for the women to explore what coming out meant for them. Meeting with the others in the group helped the women feel less alone and fearful. It also helped to counteract shame and to see positive possibilities for living as queer, lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
The guidelines we used for this group are simple:
No sexual identity label is required. Stay in uncertainty for as long as you want. Try things on, then modify or throw them out as needed.
Having no time line is normal—what is normal, anyway? Respect your own pace.
There is no pressure to come out in any particular way, just encouragement to take responsible, self-loving risks.
Take a good look around. Understand that your struggle is part of something bigger.
Know that fear is a sign that something important is going on.
I had a wonderful relationship with a woman when I was 24. Looking back, it was the freest and most authentic expression of my sexuality I'd ever had until this past year. I was a missionary at the time and was filled with a lot of guilt and fear, so I suppressed that part of myself.
As I started to think about coming out, I asked myself, "What will God think of me if I have another relationship with a woman?" Great books and a wonderful friend who is a spiritual director helped me work through this question. I now feel confident about finding fulfillment in this way.
The coming out group was an important part of the process. We were all of different ages and backgrounds, and that only added to the richness. It was good to have a place where I could totally express what I was going through and feel supported and safe in doing so.
I feel like I'm on a journey and I'm not sure where Ill be going next. It's a good journey, though, and I'm finally true to myself. I'm enjoying the process of discovering more and more about myself and the LGBT community, as well as feeling free to question things I've always held as true.
At age 24, I got my first social label: DIVORCED. My second label (which can be directly linked to labels one and three), came just after: BIPOLAR. It wasn't long before the hat trick, label three: BANKRUPT.
Not yet 25 and I had lost more than some people do in a lifetime. After a good five years of therapy and healing progress, the waters had started to calm. Time had separated the relationships worth keeping from the ones I wouldn't miss. People's judgments dictated the quality of the relationships that survived. I accepted that. I was as close as I could get to being 'accepted' again.
At 29, I realized my newest label: GAY. I had come to the realization that I am a lesbian. Homosexual. A dyke. Whatever your label of choice. I didn't "turn into" or "decide to become" gay. I simply realized and accepted an aspect of myself that previously had been misrepresented.
I am not looking forward to the "coming out" process. Will it leave me vulnerable once again and change relationships I worked so hard to salvage? I'm hoping for a smoother journey than I had when I was 24, but I won't know the full effects until long after I've tallied the initial losses and saves.
Sadly, I know I stand to lose the trust and respect of some people. I may lose some people from my life completely. But I know from experience that it will hurt less than the damage I stand to suffer by keeping it hidden. I'm making a big effort to stand solidly behind all the things that make me, ME. Take me or leave me, but I want the world to know who I am.
As a lesbian and a practising Muslim, it took me many years to stop debating (mainly with myself) whether or not having a same-sex partner was acceptable to God. I was afraid I was going against God's teachings and that I'd pay the price in this life or the hereafter. But it became clear to me that it was not my choice and that God had created me this way. Trying to live as a straight woman would be living a lie. And I don't believe God put me on this earth to go through life pretending to be someone else.
The debate in my mind had ended, but the anxiety and shame still wouldn’t go away. It wasn't good enough to have the support of just my lesbian friends, but I still wasn’t out to my family and straight friends. I began to feel that the dragging weight of this secret would affect my mental, physical and emotional health in a serious way.
I've always believed that God knows what’s in our hearts. People come and go, but God is always there. Yet it took me years to get to the point of actually connecting directly with the Creator about this issue.
There did come a day when, in great despair, I reached out to God for help. There's a special prayer one can do just before bedtime. You can pose any issue where guidance is needed—and I needed guidance about whether God accepts my being a lesbian. That very night I had a dream in which the message was clear. I got my answer, symbolically. Without a doubt, he message was, "IT'S OKAY."
I always felt it was my faith in God and my being gay that was causing my anxiety, because I couldn't reconcile the two. When I finally put my trust in God and asked for guidance, I felt the support and acceptance I'd been searching for all along. It was almost as if God spoke to me and said, "I was always here. What took you so long?"
Scared, alone and confused . . . this is what I felt when I realized at the age 14 that I was bisexual. I grew up in a very small, closed-minded town and in a very homophobic family. I heard gay bashing and put-downs constantly. I was afraid to tell my friends. All I had was TV, movies and the computers at school to help me understand. I spent every lunch hour looking stuff up on the Internet. Every night for a week I watched Better Than Chocolate, Queer as Folk, The L Word and gay-themed movies. They saved my life. I loved watching the life I wanted. I didn't feel so alone any more. It was my own fantasy world, an escape where I could be true to myself.
Three years later, I built up the courage to tell my two best friends. They supported me! Four years after that, my family found out. They reacted with denial and anger.
I moved to the big city, where there's a wonderful gay community, and became actively gay. I worked up the nerve to tell my mom that I had a date with a girl—and my mom flipped. But I'd had enough of their abuse. I felt that if they couldn't accept me for who I am, they couldn't be in my life, so I cut them out. I had no contact with my family for two months. It was very hard, because we had been very close.
My family are now back in my life, and we are slowly working on things. They are trying their best, which is all I can ask for.
Joining the women's a group really empowered me. It showed me, in real life, that I wasn't alone. When I told my mom about the group, she was very happy for me—a big step for her. Now I'm fully out to my family, with no abuse for the first time in my life. It's wonderful. I'm as strong and courageous as ever.
Last summer's Pride celebration was my first real Pride that wasn't on a television or movie screen. I waved that flag with pride—pride for who I am and pride for everyone like me.
A long time ago, a girl kissed me. We never labeled our relationship, but it was the first time I fell in love. I couldn't avoid smiling every time I saw her—and people started to talk. In a small town in Mexico, people's talk matters. Parents started telling my friends not to hang around with me and I ended up being quite isolated. The girl left me as well. The gossip reached my parents. I can still see the repulsion and disgust on my mother's face. My mother never hugged me again.
I wanted to 'belong' so badly that I became a secretly non-straight, publicly homophobic person. I learned to divide my life, and love became a private matter. I left my family about 10 years ago, as soon as I finished university, with my heart broken into a thousand pieces.
I got tired of running two shows. About two years ago, I started a painful process of putting myself in one piece. My first and most difficult step was to tell my parents. It took me a year to write a letter, which I brought to them in person. They took about two minutes to read it—and then asked me to leave. But, they called me on my next birthday. Since then, they've made an effort to get to know me.
The next step in my quest to put myself together was get in contact with other women with my sexual orientation. I found the group at Qmunity for women coming out. I never planned to come out or make a bold public statement, but I knew I had to open my mind to embrace diversity and equality. By accepting diversity, I was going to accept that secret part of myself.
In one of the first sessions, the facilitator called herself "dyke," without remorse. I was shocked by how comfortable she was and by her sense of belonging, despite the heavy word. But I kept coming back to the group. It was less difficult each time I came through the door of the Qmunity office. And eventually, I was able to interact with other lesbians in my office and in public places.
About the authors
Qmunity offers a range of social support groups for LGBTQ people and allies. Volunteer facilitators are members of the LGBTQ community, who have training in facilitation and peer counselling skills.